The "crimes against humanity" being perpetrated in Syria are being co-ordinated directly by President Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle, according to defectors from the country's security and intelligence services.
Legal experts have claimed it would be "preposterous and completely implausible" that the President did not know about shoot-to-kill orders and widespread torture being used to suppress the Syrian uprising.
"No one is authorised to give orders to the security forces except for [Assad]," said the country's former vice-president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, who now lives in exile in Paris.
"Will anyone believe that 300,000 soldiers can come out of their barracks to slaughter citizens due to an initiative by their officers? These orders are issued by the President of the state," he told Dispatches, a programme on Britain's Channel 4.
Assad's brother, Maher, is implicated in one incident which left more than 100 people dead. Other defectors claim to have been ordered to fire on demonstrators by Assad's cousin, Brigadier-General Atef Najib, who was head of the political security directorate in Dera'a when the uprising began.
And there are reports of kill quotas being handed to military personnel as the regime sought to crush the movement. Independent